1914/1918 - Not then, not now, not ever
Artists from the 31 countries involved in the First World War were given a block of wood from the front. They created different commemorative works reflecting on the destruction of war and the hope for peace.
Germany / Günther Uecker: Untitled
The exhibition "1914/1918 - Not Then, Not Now, Not Ever," shown at the German Reichstag in Berlin, was commissioned to commemorate the end of the First World War on November 11, 1918. The works were created by artists from the 31 countries involved in the conflict. This one is from the German sculptor and installation artist Günther Uecker.
Günther Uecker: Untitled, detail
Uecker has been using nails in his art since the 1950s. The Düsseldorf artist's symbolic works, which deal with different political issues, have been featured in different Bundestag exhibitions, including the 1996 installation entitled Fall, in remembrance of the pogrom night in Germany on November 9, 1938. He also designed the Bundestag's Prayer Room in 1998–99.
Bulgaria / Nedko Solakov: Dead Warriors
Each artist was given the same material to create a work for the exhibition: a cube of wood of 30 by 30 by 30 centimeters (12" x 12" x 12") from oak trees that stood in a fiercely disputed section of the front in Alsace. Through discolorations or even leftover war projectiles, traces of the conflict can still be seen in the wood itself. This work is by Bulgarian artist Nedko Solakov.
Nedko Solakov: Dead Warriors, detail
One of the best-known Bulgarian artists of his generation, Solakov has regularly participated in international exhibitions, such as the Documenta 12 (2007) and Documenta 13 (2012), and the Venice Biennale in 2001, 2003 and 2007. His storytelling works include historical references and touches of humor. Here, he added a few ink spots to the cube of wood to create a work called Dead Warriors.
Austria / Hermann Nitsch: Untitled
Austrian avant-garde artist Hermann Nitsch turned the cube of wood into a symbolic butcher's block covered with blood, recalling the brutality of war. World War I caused 20 million deaths and about 23 million military personnel were wounded, making it one of the deadliest conflicts in human history.
Hermann Nitsch: Untitled, detail
Nitsch has long shown his fascination with bloody scenes. His performances in the early 1960s were so provocative that they led to court trials and imprisonment. Although the 80-year-old artist now avoids killing animals during his performances, his "120. Aktion" from 2004 still involved a slaughtered bull, five dead pigs and 600 liters of blood. The blood on the wooden block, however, is paint.
South Africa / Wim Botha: Untitled
Botha is best known for his sculptures carved out of books. The South African artist often juxtaposes light and movement with dark figures in a state of conflict. The pieces of glass placed around the wooden skeleton in this piece mirror the work's current surroundings, adding new elements and questions to the history of war.
Wim Botha: Untitled, detail
Born in 1974, Botha is one of the youngest artists in the show, along with the Ukrainian Aljoscha and the Turk Cevdet Erek. The exhibition's oldest artist, the Romanian Geta Bratescu, was born in 1926. Interestingly, her installation was the only one to include a video on an iPad. "Variety in the forms of expression was important in the selection of the artists," said curator Mattijs Visser.
Ireland / Sean Scully: The Disappearing Boys
The Irish-born American-based artist Sean Scully is renowned for his large abstract paintings. However, for his work entitled The Disappearing Boys, he created a very concrete sculpture. John, Johannes, Jean: three versions of the same name in English, German and French are engraved on a coffin, referring to three of the major European powers at the center of the world conflict.
Sean Scully: The Disappearing Boys, detail
The curator of the exhibition, Mattijs Visser, said he was fascinated by how the works on show reveal deep connections with the country of origin of the artists. The title of Scully's work can be seen as a reference to those who were abducted, killed and secretly buried during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. These victims were known as the Disappeared.
Australia / Fiona Hall: Fell
War and death also have consequences for subsequent generations. The Australian artist Fiona Hall placed a charred cradle on a coffin in her work, entitled Fell. The sculptor was the first to represent Australia in its new pavilion at the Venice Biennale when it opened in May 2015.
Fiona Hall: Fell, detail
Hall is renowned for transforming ordinary, everyday materials into organic forms in her works, giving them historical and contemporary relevance. With the sawdust from her sculpture, she also created a bread that's wrapped in barbed wire. Sawdust was sometimes added to baked goods during World War I to compensate for shortages of flour.
Armenia / Jean Boghossian: Double World
Born in Syria, the painter and sculptor Jean Boghossian is Lebanese and has been living in Brussels since 1975. Since he is also of Armenian descent, the international artist represented the country at the Venice Biennale in 2017 as well as in the "1914/1918 - Not Then, Not Now, Not Ever" exhibition. He split his block of wood into two pieces.
Jean Boghossian: Double World, detail
Boghossian is renowned for his experimentation with fire and smoke in his works. In Double World, one side is burnt, representing the losers of the conflict. The sharp edges of the two pieces show how the different camps appear threatening to each other and clash, but the two laser-cut blocks also fit perfectly together, which the artist sees as a symbol of hope.
1914/1918 - Not Then, Not Now, Not Ever
Tours can be booked to visit the memorial exhibition "1914/1918 - Not Then, Not Now, Not Ever," on show in the German Reichstag building until January 6, 2019. The exhibition will travel to the UN's headquarters in New York in 2019.